A Friend Passes on Without Fanfare

Now that it’s the offseason, I thought I’d sprinkle the blog with some recycled content. You know, for the planet.

This ran in 1993. Its origins trace to a conversation I had with my editor and fellow baseball fan John Harmon, when we were old man lamenting the absence of kids playing outdoors, primarily baseball. I started writing this column in my head shortly after that conversation, planning it for my week off in June.

Then, about two weeks before my column was about to run, John wrote his own column based on that discussion. Initially I panicked, but I soon decided I could work his effort into mine. This was the result.


It’s hard to believe a man of such stature could pass away in obscurity.

The Republic has learned of the death of an American legend, Sandlot Baseball.

In ill health for the past 20 years, Sandlot, 155, was pronounced dead Saturday in a park outside Ogden, Utah.

Officials investigating the death said he was supposed to meet 12 boys, but they suddenly abandoned him when a 13th arrived to announce he had acquired the new video game, “Desensitizing Violence.”

Foul play has not been ruled out.

The exact whereabouts of Sandlot’s birth is unclear, but one commonly accepted theory says he was born June 12, 1839 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Still, Sandlot was never confined to one address, moving frequently and gracefully from large city to small burg.

Like Johnny Appleseed, Sandlot traveled the country by foot, entrenching the roots of the national pastime.

The seeds of the game took hold in more than a few local residents. Among those he befriended were the city’s hardball skippers, Columbus North’s Joe Preda and Columbus East’s Lou Giovanini.

“It seemed like everybody knew him,” Preda said. “But I can’t remember the last time I saw him.”

Giovanini also had difficulty pinpointing his most recent encounter with the legend. But the veteran manager had a theory on the demise of Sandlot and two of his buddies.
“(Sandlot) Baseball, (Backyard) Football and (Pickup) Basketball were all we knew. Maybe today there are too many others,” the coach said, pointing to younger kids Tele Vision and Play Station as prime suspects.

Both coaches said Sandlot’s ill health in recent years left its mark on the diamond, where today’s ballplayers aren’t as knowledgeable of the game’s nuances as they once were.”

From Sandlot, “you learned the game a little better,” Giovanini said.

Sandlot taught kids the strategy of the game, Preda said. “We knew where to hit the ball and when to squeeze bunt.”

The impact of Sandlot’s death is not just felt by those who made a career on the diamond. The Republic Editor John Harmon, who recently embarked on a fruitless mid-afternoon search for Sandlot, was also dismayed to learn of his passing.

“Sandlot Baseball played a large part in my life and other kids in the neighborhood. I hope we can at least keep his memory alive for future generations,” Harmon said.
“But you know, you’ll never really know him unless you were lucky enough to meet him.”
Sandlot is survived by one brother, Stick Ball, in critical condition at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and one half-brother, Little League, living comfortably at his estate in Williamsburg, Pa.

In lieu of flowers or memorials, Sandlot’s last will and testament requested one gesture.

The deceased has asked for 10-12 boys and girls to gather on a nondescript piece of property, with a ball (preferably in shoddy condition), a bat (most definitely wooden) and shareable gloves in tow. The will states that no uniforms be worn, no rule books carried and, most importantly, no adults present.

Sandlot was a firm believer in reincarnation.





TBtB: Philadelphia Phillies

Part 7: Philadelphia Phillies

And so we resume. We’re back in the National League East, visiting one of the oldest franchises in the sport.

Citizens Bank has been the sole title sponsor of the Phils’ home park since its opening in 2004. I never hear much about this one, so I’m guessing it’s just a generic new-style park, an improvement on the Vet but, ironically, somewhat indistinguishable from the other parks of its era.

The Vet, of course, was almost entirely indistinguishable from many of the digs of fellow original NL franchises – the Pirates’ Three Rivers on the other side of the state, the Reds’ Riverfront along the Ohio River and the Cards in Busch 1.0. The most memorable characteristic of Vet was its turf, a surface employed to cut diamonds in the offseason, and the legendary, let’s call it passion, of its home fans.

The Phillies have a long history, though most of it is pretty pathetic. But it’s in Philly, so finding a nice replacement name should be simple. On the other hand, the club has called Philadelphia home and itself the Phillies longer than any other North American sports franchise, so resistance to change runs deep.

We can subtitle this one The Gang Renames a Stadium.

Ballpark History

Built: 2004

Capacity:  43,651

Name:  Citizen’s Bank Park 2004-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: Veteran’s Stadium, 1971-2003; Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium* 1938-1970; Baker Bowl/National League Park/Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds 1887-1938; Recreation Park 1883-1886.

Distinctive Features: Ashburn Alley, a pathway named in honor of Phils’ great and former broadcaster Richie Ashburn; a view of the downtown skyline; statues of Ashburn and other all-time Phils Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt and Robin Roberts; Home Team Success.

Ballpark Highlights: In 2007, St. Louis handed the Phils a 10-2 loss, marking the 10,000th loss in franchise history. The setback made the Phillies the first pro sports team to reach quintuple digits in Ls.

In happier home team news, on the season’s final day the Phils knocked off the Washington Nationals 6-1. Coupled with a Mets loss moments earlier, it capped off a furious late-season charge to the division title, helping dim memories of their own collapse 43 years earlier.

Two days after the first pitch was thrown, Brad Lidge struck out World Series fixture Eric Hinske to wrap up the club’s second World Series title in 2008. The game had been suspended by rain two nights earlier in the top of the sixth with the score tied 2-2, though the Rays had entered the inning trailing 2-1. In the wake of the suspension, Bud Selig determined that postseason contests could not be stopped before nine innings had been played, an entirely sensible ruling.

In 2010, in his first playoff appearance in his 13th big league season, Roy Halladay (RIP Doc) became the second pitcher to throw a postseason no-hitter when he blanked the Reds 4-0, fanning eight and walking just one. Earlier in the season, the future Hall of Famer tossed a perfect game in Miami.

*Shibe Park opened in 1909, though it was used exclusively by the Athletics until the clubs began a time-share arrangement from 1938-54.



Still Going Stupid

Fifty Years In, I’m Still Going Stupid
The entries in The Pursuit of Mildly Amusing encompass almost 30 years of writing, all but one completed out of professional obligation or simply for my amusement. But one didn’t fit in either category. The oldest entry in the book dates to my college days, an assignment from Professor Jerry Miller’s magazine writing class that somehow managed to stay in my possession after more than a dozen moves.
A quick digression from which you might not return. The aforementioned Prof. Miller was almost certainly the single most significant influence on me as a writer. He taught me the first rule of good writing – there are no rules, a maxim I’ve exploited to its fullest extent in all my capacities. But Professor Jerry Miller is surely not an example of the old saw that those who can’t, teach. For proof, I direct you to his page on this here Book of Faces, where he’s been chronicling an ongoing health issue. Visit his page https://www.facebook.com/jerry.miller.397501/posts/10208790347749951 and follow his journey through entries that deliver, in equal doses, fear, humor, exasperation and wisdom in a delightful brew. You’ll feel bad for enjoying it so much. I urge all who know him, and even those who don’t, to pop on over and read about the ass kicking he’s going to ultimately deliver to cancer.
OK, for those who have bothered to return, we press on. The tale I wrote in the spring of 1988 was a How To story on dealing with absentmindedness, a trait that has plagued me for all of my 50 years. Its presence in the book was not for quality reasons – this was not an example of superior craftsmanship. Rather, its inclusion was more anthropological, a sign of where I once was with the pen. It’s possible to see a decent effort lurking somewhere in that piece, though only if you’re an Olympic-caliber squinter.
In the story, I related my then 20-year struggle with losing items both large and small. It started with my daily failure to remember to replant my retainer after lunch in the second grade, leaving it in a small box on Mrs. Frank’s desk that Pete or Mary Lou Markham would have to retrieve sometime after school. The anecdotes ran up through my first day of college, which had served as the apex of my absentminded ways. On my flight from New York to Indy by way of Detroit, I was stuck in the airport in Motown, and during a phone call to my parents to inform them about my lengthier-than-expected layover, I left my wallet on the top of the pay phone. Not surprising, it was not there when I returned to reclaim it. Moments later, when I called to tell them about losing my wallet, I left my plane ticket atop the exact same pay phone. That was, fortunately, not pilfered during my brief venture away from the now-extinct communication device.
Which brings us to the present. On Tuesday night, I was in a conversation with Erwin, the fine young Guatemalan exchange student staying with us. Prompted by a friend’s text, Erwin asked where his passport was. I was stumped, not recalling ever having his passport in my possession. Erwin reminded me that on the night he arrived from Guatemala, his coordinator passed along an envelope containing the passports belonging to him and Paco, another boy studying at Marquette.
Quickly, panic set in. I had no real memory of such an exchange, though I couldn’t rule it out given that the six-plus hours I’d spent patrolling the terminals of O’Hare awaiting his much-delayed flight had left me thoroughly fried. And I had absolutely no memory of doing anything with such a parcel once we got back home. Over the next two days I scoured and rescoured all the likely places, to no avail. I was convinced that the passports were gone, a significant problem given he’s scheduled to return to Guatemala in a month’s time. Mr. and Mrs. Garcia were not likely to appreciate any forced confinement to the U.S., an unwelcome portation, as it were.
Yesterday, I took Erwin and Cormac to school. Afterward, I stopped to see the woman who handles the foreign exchange program to relate my all-too-familiar tale of woe. I confessed that I couldn’t find the envelope, and was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to. During the course of a spirit-boosting conversation, she offhandedly asked me if I’d paid for parking before leaving the airport. I acknowledged I had. Suddenly, it all made sense, in a supremely pathetic, history-repeating kind of way. On my way out, I stopped at the self-parking machine. I probably placed the envelope atop it and then walked away after completing my transaction. It was, I had to admit, just like me to do that.
On the bright side, if I’d engaged in such otherwise unfathomable boobery, there was hope. Lost passports were occasionally turned in to the TSA. She offered to call the airport to check on them for me while I dashed off to work. A few hours later, I received a text from Cormac explaining that the passports had been found. And yes, my misadventure from 30 years prior had played out again, only this time with a happier ending. The authorities at O’Hare had come through, retrieving the envelope and passing it along to one of the other schools where the traveling Guatemalans were attending. Thank God for the TSA (which, incidentally, is the first time in history that sentence has been written).

The 200: 66-51

66            I Got You   Split Enz

65            I’m So Excited       The Pointer Sisters

64            Astronaut   Ass Ponys

63            Spaceage Love Song   Flock of Seagulls

62            Inside Out    The Mighty Lemon Drops

61            Everywhere You Turn   Longwave (You Tube)

60            The Road   Frank Turner

59            The Battle of Hampton Roads    Titus Andronicus  

58            Run    Snow Patrol  

57            Take A Walk   Passion Pit (You Tube)

56            The Way    Fastball

55            Love And Anger   Kate Bush

54            Keep Slipping Away   A Place To Bury Strangers

53            Gravity    Superjesus  (You Tube)

52            This Corrosion      The Sisters Of Mercy

51           Everything Looks Beautiful on Video   The Epoxies

50            Last Cigarette       Dramarama


65- I was most definitely a part of the Disco Sucks generation, but I always loved this song. Today, I like a lot more songs from that era than I did back then.


64 – With my WOXY devotion, there’s a strong Southwestern Ohio bent to the list, with contributions from The National, the Afghan Whigs, Guided by Voices and the Ass Ponys.


63 – The stupid hair disguised a much better band than how they’re remembered.


59 – At 14 minutes, the longest song on this countdown by a considerable amount. It serves as the final track on Titus Andronicus’ incredible Monitor album, which connects the Civil War to the songwriter’s roots growing up in New Jersey.


54 – A Place to Bury Strangers is a real band, and not just what organized crime in Chicago thinks of Newton County, Indiana. I’ve seen them twice in small clubs, an experience highly recommended for people who enjoy distortion-heavy music, or those who no longer like to possess functional ear drums.




51 – For my money, the Epoxies are simply the greatest new wave band to ever live, and it’s a long way down to No. 2. Oddly, they existed about 20 years after New Wave had pretty much run its course.


The Fallacy, and the Failure

It has become a common refrain, from Republicans who want to deflect responsibility to angry Bernie-loving Democrats to your garden variety against-the-grain think pieces: Donald Trump’s victory was the fault of Hillary and the Democrats.

Yes, it’s a bizarre type of logic to claim the people who didn’t vote for Trump are responsible for his election. But contrarian reasoning is how you get noticed in an overflowing media landscape, even though the argument is flawed in two distinct ways.

The argument proffered in the “it’s Hillary’s fault” camp is founded on the premise if the Democrats had simply nominated a better candidate, then Trump wouldn’t be president. Even if you grant that a better candidate would have won, and that’s arguable though not provable, it doesn’t naturally follow that this was the cause of the loss. This conclusion derives from a bit of flawed reasoning I call the Fallacy of the Isolated Factor.*

This logical breakdown is an idea I first came across in my days covering sports. Specifically, it was during a 1994 game at Purdue against visiting Seton Hall. The Boilermakers, who would go on to a No. 1 seed and loss in the regional final that year, beat the Pirates 69-67 on a Sunday in January.

After the game, one of the reporters, or perhaps it was SH coach P.J. Carlesimo, remarked that “rebounding was the difference in the game,” a comment based on the disparity in rebounding between the Glenn Robinson-led Boilers and the Pirates. However, the Hall had a chance at the end, missing a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won the game. Had that shot fallen, the rebounding disparity wouldn’t have been the difference at all. And Purdue’s fans and coaching staff would have looked at some other statistical disparity or stretch of play or individual breakdown, to find its own “difference.” The search for a single difference, very common among sportswriters anda anaysts, was a fool’s errand.

The same thing could be said about the 2016 presidential campaign. Yes, it’s possible the Democrats would have won the election with a better candidate (such as Bernie or Biden). It’s also possible the Dems win if Comey doesn’t make his surprise announcement 10 days before the election. Or if Podesta’s emails hadn’t been hacked. Or if white Midwesterners had a better understanding of the economic issues working against them. Or if Wisconsin and other states hadn’t successfully restricted voting in the years before the election. The point is, any number of factors could have swung the election the Dems’ way, even with a candidate as flawed (both real and perceived) as Clinton.

Now, it’s true that when you hold all the other variables firm and change the facts of a single one, you can see a different result, whether in a ballgame or an election or any other event. That’s particularly true in a situation where an outcome is closely contested. But the same is true if you change a different variable. The flaw is believing the single variable that you’re examining, the Isolated Factor, is the “cause” of a result.

There was no “single cause” for the Trump victory, as there is very rarely a single cause for anything. But we like to ascribe one, because as people we don’t like complexities when a simple solution can be suggested. And we like concrete explanations, even when the real answer is much less well-defined.

But running afoul of the Fallacy is not the only problem with the Dems Are to Blame for Trump theory. Because it also ignores the simple fact that the Democrats had no bearing on Trump winning the Republican nomination to begin with.

The 2016 race for the GOP nomination featured the largest field in memory, a 17-person roster stacked with all types of competitors. Former governors and senators and private sectorians. It offered rock-solid conservatives, Rockefeller Republicans and a rock star Libertarianish character. Republican royalty and Grand Old Party crashers. You had one guy who made his bones busting unions, another who did so busting criminal enterprises and another who busted her own company. Pragmatists and ideologues. A handsome, young Latino and a grotesque, beach-going Jerseyite. Policy wonks and seat-of-the-pants decision makers. You had your God-filled candidates (both the Protestant and Catholic Gods). You had various shades of brown people, and the guys who don’t like brown people. You had a second crazy fucker in the race, but a pleasant one. You had a genial idiot. And you had whatever radioactive gunk Ted Cruz is composed of.

And from that glorious smorgasbord of options, of delightful menu items ranging from heart-healthy entrees to decadently delicious desserts, Republican voters opted for the spoiled potato salad. Yes, the GOP looked over the entire buffet and chose to give the country food poisoning.

Republican voters decided the best choice was the thrice-married, proud adultering sexual deviant (and the only guy in the entire Republican party more icky than Bill Clinton); a long-time Democrat with no electoral experience; a thin-skinned bully who combines proud ignorance with unwarranted self-confidence and an awful temperament; a man with questionable ethics in every facet of his existence; a person who supports none of the traditional hallmarks of small-market conservatism, but expresses admiration for authoritarian and murderous dictators; a man who blasts foreigners even while he’s barely intelligible in his native tongue; a man with a history of racist comments and behavior, including five years of leading the unfounded claim that the previous office holder was not entitled to his position; and a man whose connection to Christianity can best be described as “at least he’s heard of it, I think.”

That wasn’t on me, or Hillary, or Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or the gang at MSNBC or George Soros (excuse me, I have to step away to pledge my undying allegiance to our dark overlord at any mention of his name)…………………………………….(cue dilly dallying music)………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… OK I’m back. Where was I? Oh, yeah, we didn’t have anything to do with the Tangerine Nightmare winning the primary, thus unleashing his brand of idiocy on a public who was apparently voting, en masse, completely stoned. When it comes to the ascendancy of 45 and the 180 we’re now doing, whatever factor you want to assign the lion’s share of the “blame” to, it starts right there.

(asterisk) The Fallacy of the Isolated Factor is almost certainly not my creation. I’m sure it has a much more sciency name and background, complete with graphs and proofs and even a few random Greek letters, rather than sharing blog space with photos of Rush Limbaugh and Chrissy Teigen accompanied by phony quotes. But as long as I don’t bother to investigate that possibility, I can continue to claim it as my own.

They Said What?


18z9jkmbbpg82jpgThe backlash against the NFL protests is one of those areas where two groups of people simply can look at the same situation and see two very different things. Foes see this as disrespecting the flag and the country and the people who fought to protect it. I see it honoring the flag and the country and the people who fought to protect it, because the lawful ability to remonstrate against the government is one of the very things that makes the U.S. what it is.

And I’ve always respected individuals who will stand up for something they believe, particularly if they put themselves at risk. And even more so if the risk they’re taking is largely for someone else’s benefit.

Colin Kaepernick, for starters, wasn’t protesting to enrich himself, but primarily to improve the life’s of others. He did so at risk to his career and his reputation. I respect that, just as I respect Tim Tebow kneeling during games to show his faith. And both of them suffered, in different ways, from that willingness to put their convictions ahead of their careers.

To others, Kaepernick’s act is beyond the pale, and he needs to find a more fitting place to protest. But protest is not supposed to be comfortable, and can’t be to work. It has to shake us up.